[Personal disclaimer: I'm reviewing this book as part of my participation at the website The Ooze. Their editors asked me to contribute. They send me a book (from a selection I choose) and I promise to write a review that goes both here on my blog as well as on their website along with the other reviewers.]
John Main said that there is only one prayer–the prayer of Jesus to the Father (via the Spirit). If that is so, then there is only one experience of God: namely the experience of Jesus. The experience of God as Abba.
Brennan Manning’s book comes from the experience of one who has be invited into the life of Abba by Jesus in the Holy Spirit. Manning knows the unknowable. He knows his words are pointers only. Words like furious, union, longing of God. He knows that this all begins in grace. It is God’s faithfulness not ours that is primary.
This articulation for me is the central strength of the book and is worth reading (and more importantly actually meditating upon) for this alone. For those whose experience of Christianity has been about whether your personal faith and actions measure up to some standard, leaving you inevitably disheartened, even despairing, then his words are one of comfort. They are indeed good news.
That said, I do (in light of charity I hope) have some critiques of the book. First a somewhat minor one. Manning states that only Jesus had revealed that God is truly Father. This is not correct. The mystical reading of the Song of Solomon (The Song of Songs) that permeates so much of Manning’s spirituality where God is seen as the Bridegroom and the Soul as his Bride predates Jesus. A Jewish mystic by the name of Honi the Circle Drawer similarly called God Abba and was considered to be a miralce worker with a special most intimate relationship to God.
A more serious critique. Manning interprets his deep unitive experience through the lens of the ragamuffin. Which at its worst reinforces the individualistic ego our of (post)modern times by saying “You are loved just as you are.” This is not again to reinforce the notion of a ‘works salvation’ or create a new standard of the holy/sinner, but just that coming out of The Deep with God, there are ways that more properly express (and thereby deepen) that experience and ways I think that do not. While I grasp Manning’s more Luther-like personality, revealing in paradoxical language, the fury of God, language meant to shake us out of our normal thought patterns, maybe some more of Calvin and Ignatius (Loyola) are needed on the far side of this grace.
Manning does have moments when he grasps the importance of this point.
For example: (p.75)
The wild unrestricted love of God is not simply an inspiring idea. When it imposes itself on mind and heart with the stark reality of ontological truth, it determines why and at what time you get up in the morning, how you pass your evenings, how your spend your weekends, what you read, and who you hang with; it affects what breaks your heart, what amazes you, and what makes you happy.
I agree but that doesn’t exactly sound ragamuffin-ish to me. I wish he would have spent more time on this point. How do we know when are lives are becoming conformed/turned into the likeness of the image of God which we always are (but perhaps have not yet lived to the fullest)? How do we discern not just as individuals but as a community? On that last point, this work to me is somewhat too inner-individual focused. But I understand that not every book can do everything. Certainly not a book on our Christian faith.
My personal disagreements aside, it comes from someone who has known God. Who has been known by God. Who knows that he can not know The One who knows him. And yet loves (and is loved) nonetheless.